“This is What We Care About” is a study in our communal interests as a society. Every day Google releases a list of the top 20 accelerating search terms in the United States. This project uses a piece of software to collect images of these terms and combine them into a daily collage, allowing us to see what the world is interested in through a single photo (without having to scan headlines or read any text). When viewed in a series, these collages show our social concerns: the stories and characters we pay attention to, trends we follow, celebrities we idealize, foods we crave, commodities we fetishize, etc. On a higher level, they also reveal otherwise invisible patterns and cycles in what we care about as a community.

The collages are not put together by hand- instead they are created programmatically through a complex image-processing algorithm. Techniques such as face detection and region of interest (ROI) extraction are used in order to achieve visually appealing compositions without the input of any human guidance. This is an important distinction, since it is a machinely objective way of portraying our collective interests. If these were created manually, it would be impossible not to accidentally give preferential placement to certain “interesting” images. Creating them algorithmically prevents this from happening and allows us to view pop-culture through a purely statistical lens.

Some of the popular terms are obviously the product of recent current events- take May 1, 2011 for example. This is the day Osama Bin Laden was killed, and the popular search terms reflect this: “osama bin laden dead”, “islamabad”, “al qaeda”, “president obama”, “navy seals”, etc. While some terms reflect big media stories like this, often times they are much less predictable and can reveal non-obvious trends. For instance, why was “syphilis” the #6 most popular search term on March 7, 2011? And why was there a sudden spike in interest in “vicodin” on April 14th?

Statistical information is taken from Google Hot Trends. Image analysis, manipulation, and montage is done in Matlab.

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